What is a macrobiotic diet? Does it help to fight cancer?

Quick Answer
A lifestyle and philosophy that includes an approach to nutrition based on whole grains, beans, vegetables, and the Chinese principle of yin-yang.
Expert Answers
enotes eNotes educator| Certified Educator

History: The word “macrobiotic” comes from the Greek words for “great life” and was first used by Hippocrates, the father of medicine. In the eighteenth century, German physician Christoph Hufeland to used this term describe a program for good health. The modern macrobiotic diet was developed in the twentieth century by George Ohsawa and has evolved under Michio Kushi. It was further popularized in the 1980s when a number of books were published including books by several medical professionals who credited the diet for their recovery from cancer and other illnesses.

The diet: On a typical day, the standard macrobiotic diet includes complex carbohydrates from brown rice, millet, barley, whole wheat, oats, and other whole grains (50 to 60 percent of calories), vegetables and fruit (20 to 25 percent of calories), beans and bean products (such as tofu), sea vegetables, and vegetable oil. Fish or seafood, nuts and seeds, pickles, and sweets are eaten occasionally (once a week). Consumption of red meat, eggs, poultry, and dairy are discouraged, as are tropical fruits, refined sugars, alcohol, and caffeinated beverages. The diet is modifiable based on a person’s age, sex, activity level, personal needs, and environment.

Benefits: Little research has been done on the macrobiotic diet for cancer prevention, and most of the research to date has been inconclusive. The diet may affect hormone metabolism; for example, women consuming a macrobiotic diet have much higher levels of phytoestrogens (hormone-like plant compounds) in their urine than women consuming an omnivorous diet. This may result in a lower risk for hormonally influenced cancers (such as breast cancer). In addition, the macrobiotic diet is consistent with general cancer prevention guidelines of reducing fat intake, animal products, and processed foods while increasing intake of whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.

Risks: In the late 1980s, there were reports that children and adolescents eating a macrobiotic diet showed below-average growth and vitamin B12 and vitamin D deficiency. Most dietitians recommend that people on macrobiotic and vegan diets make sure to get enough vitamin B12 and vitamin D from fortified foods or supplements. Other concerns include lack of protein, inadequate calcium intake, and dehydration.


Adams, Maria. "The Macrobiotic Diet." Health Library. EBSCO, Sept. 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.

Cassileth, Barrie R. "Macrobiotics." The Complete Guide to Complementary Therapies in Cancer Care: Essential Information for Patients, Survivors and Health Professionals. Singapore: World Scientific, 2011. Digital file.

Hechtman, Leah. Clinical Naturopathic Medicine. Chatswood: Elsevier Australia, 2012. Print.

Kushi, Michio, and Alex Jack. The Cancer Prevention Diet: The Macrobiotic Approach to Preventing and Relieving Cancer. Rev. and updated 25th anniversary ed. New York: St. Martin's, 2009. Print.

"Macrobiotic Diet." Cancer.org. Amer. Cancer Soc., 1 Nov. 2008. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question